Lingle and her allies argue that she better represents the views held by a majority of the state, while Hirono stakes out positions appealing to the far left. The former governor has tried to distance herself from the national Republican Party, although that strategy has seen some hiccups
along the way.
Democrats reject the notion that Lingle will hold a strong appeal for independents and moderate Democrats. Hirono touted her own bipartisan appeal last month by releasing a television spot
featuring a primary endorsement from Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young
And Hirono's campaign doesn't think they will have a problem tying Lingle to national Republicans. The former governor delivered a speech praising Sarah Palin
at the 2008 GOP convention, and she campaigned on behalf of Sen. John McCain
in Hawaii that year. Hirono is also eager to bring up some of Lingle's less-popular acts as governor, including an unsuccesul attempt to establish a ferry for the purposes of island-to-island commuting.
There is one Democrat who buys Lingle's argument, of course -- Case.
"Lingle is going to and has positioned herself as a moderate, independent, anti-status quo, change candidates," Case said. "And that's going to be a very attractive package when matched up against Hirono, who is kind of the opposite of that."
The interest -- or lack thereof -- that outside groups show in the weeks to come will prove an interesting barometer of the race's competitiveness. So far, the Chamber of Commerce is the only national conservative group that has spent a significant amount on Case's behalf, indicating to some Democrats that Lingle is low on the priority list of GOP-supporting groups hoping to win back the Senate majority.
But the factor that might give Democrats their biggest reason for optimism is that Hirono will be running alongside Hawaii's most famous native son.
"We have a very well-liked president," said Betsy Lin
, Hirono's campaign manager. "You can't say that in all states, but in Hawaii you see a very, very well-liked president running at the top of the ticket."